As attacks mount in Crimea, Kremlin faces rising domestic pressures

Remote video URL

MOSCOW (NYTIMES) - Nearly six months into the war in Ukraine, the Kremlin still refers to its invasion as a "special military operation" while trying to maintain a sense of normalcy at home.

But a series of Ukrainian attacks in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, is puncturing that narrative.

And as Ukrainian attacks mount in the strategically and symbolically important territory, the damage is beginning to put domestic political pressure on the Kremlin, with criticism and debate about the war increasingly being unleashed on social media and underscoring that even what the Russian government considers to be Russian territory is not safe.

On Saturday (Aug 20), a drone slammed into the headquarters of Russia's Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, sending a plume of smoke over the port city of Sevastopol.

Separately, in western Crimea, Russian troops launched anti-aircraft fire at unidentified targets, the region's Russian governor said.

Local Russian officials blamed the drone attack on Ukraine and urged residents and beachgoers not to panic, while insisting there had been no injuries and that Russian air defences were functioning properly.

But as images of anti-aircraft fire streaking through the blue Crimean sky ricocheted through social media, the visceral reality of war was becoming more and more apparent to Russians - many of whom have rallied behind the Kremlin's line, hammered home in state media, that the "special military operation" to save Ukraine from Nazi domination is going smoothly and according to plan.

Russia continues to retain military superiority, and the recent strikes in Crimea have not resulted in territorial gains for Ukraine. But they nevertheless appear to have dealt a psychological blow.

In an interview over a messaging app on Saturday, one resident of Sevastopol said she had never imagined that she would live to see the events of the last six months.

She said that her solution was to try to continue living her life and to avoid the news.

"When you read the news, chaos erupts in your head," said the woman, Elena, 34, who requested her last name be withheld for her security.

"You get the feeling that all around you everything is exploding and burning and that you are in hell."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.